Join or Die

longevity place social connection Jul 05, 2023

Amidst the recent celebration of America’s Independence Day, thousands of parades were launched across the U.S. in locales large and small. These events didn’t just happen. They required vast numbers of volunteers and participants.

The parades provided multiple benefits. It brought people together across different ages, races, wealth status, and political parties to celebrate the founding of an important democratic republic. For volunteer organizers, it linked together people with similar interests and created a sense of belonging. Social scientists call this social capital, the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society that enable that society to function effectively.


Organized volunteer leaders (note manilla folder) help make parades possible (Source: Trail Dudes Baltimore)


Join or Die

According to Robert Putnam, the retired Harvard sociologist and author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, joining associations is one of the keys to healthy longevity. According to Putnam, “your chances of dying over the next year are cut in half by joining one group, cut in three quarters by joining two groups.” In a recent documentary entitled Join or Die, filmmakers highlight the work of Putnam and make the argument that joining associations is critical to individual health as well as that of a well-functioning democracy.

In May, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, issued a Surgeon General Advisory calling attention to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in our country. Advisories from America’s top doctor are typically reserved for public health challenges that require immediate attention. This is the first time one has been used to put a spotlight on loneliness. One of the advisory’s recommendations is to enhance programs, such as volunteer organizations and member associations, that bring people together.

Putnam and Murthy see joining programs as key to health.


Join or Die is a new documentary aimed at highlighting the importance of joining civic organizations (Source:


Importance of Place

Another key recommendation by the Surgeon General is to create and enhance community spaces that bring people together, such as libraries and parks. In other words, encourage our society to activate more third places, physical places that allow for connection beyond home (first place) and work (second place). The emergence of third places is more urgent with remote and hybrid work environments – in essence, people have lost human connections previously provided by their “second place”.

An important question at the individual level is whether you have access to desirable third places. Are there grocery stores, community parks, libraries, restaurants, entertainment venues and places of worship that provide for social connection for you? Keep in mind that grocery stores may not be a good place for social connection these days.

Note that some places make it easier to join community organizations than others. Some places lack social connection as part of the culture; certain regions of the world, countries or neighborhoods are more friendly than others. For example, the Herron Morton neighborhood of Indianapolis has a tagline of “Porching since 1875” and makes efforts to encourage regular porch parties to bring neighbors together.  Political polarization is making some states more desirable than others, for example, depending on your personal views.   

You may find that you are not in the best place to connect with others individually or through organizations and a change in place may the best path forward.


Front porches can serve as a form of a "third place" that bring people together (Source: Indiana Historical Society)


Do You Reside in Your Place or Are you Actively Involved?

A key point to appreciate is that residing in the right place for you may not be enough. From a health perspective, it is much better for you to get involved in your local community and become part of the social fabric. Being physically present is not enough. It is important to be relationally present, too.

Show Up. Participate. Volunteer. Lead.

At your next neighborhood parade, be sure to attend. Better yet, be involved in putting on. It may not only add life to your years; it may also add years to your life.


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